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Why PR Can be Effective "Medicine"
Robert A. Kelly
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Robert A. Kelly © 2005.
Why PR Can be Effective “Medicine”
When properly applied by business, non-profit and
association managers, public relations “medicine”
does something positive about the behaviors of those
important external audiences of theirs that MOST
affect their operations.
It’s easy-to-swallow “medicine” when it leads managers
to persuade those key outside folks to their way of
thinking, then move them to take actions that allow the
manager’s department, division or subsidiary to succeed.
In other words, effective public relations “medicine” is
applied when PR alters individual perception leading to
changed behaviors among a manager’s target “publics,”
thus helping achieve his or her managerial objectives.
Here’s the underlying essence: people act on their own
perception of the facts before them, which leads to
predictable behaviors about which something can be
done. When we create, change or reinforce that opinion
by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action
the very people whose behaviors affect the organization
the most, the public relations mission is accomplished.
But managers should always remember that their PR
effort must demand more than special events, brochures
and press releases if they are to come up with the public
relations results they paid for.
Here’s a sampling of what this “medicine” can deliver:
fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures;
capital givers or specifying sources beginning to look
your way; customers starting to make repeat purchases;
membership applications on the rise; community leaders
beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in show
room visits; prospects starting to do business with you;
higher employee retention rates, and even politicians and
legislators starting to view you as a key member of the
business, non-profit or association communities.
Luckily, your PR people are already in the perception and
behavior business, so they should be of real use for this
initial opinion monitoring project. But you must be certain
of several things. First, who among your PR team really
understands the blueprint outlined above and shows
commitment to its implementation, starting with key
audience perception monitoring? Second, be certain that
your public relations people really accept why it’s SO
important to know how your most important outside
audiences perceive your operations, products or services.
And third, make sure they believe that perceptions almost
always result in behaviors that can help or hurt your
Review the bidding with your PR staff. Especially your
game plan for monitoring and gathering perceptions by
questioning members of your most important outside
audiences. Questions along these lines: how much do you
know about our organization? Have you had prior contact
with us and were you pleased with the interchange? Are
you familiar with our services or products and employees?
Have you experienced problems with our people or
You may wish to use those PR folks of yours in that
monitoring capacity since, as noted, they’re already in
the perception and persuasion business. And further,
because it can run into real money using professional
survey firms to do the opinion gathering work. But,
whether it’s your people or a survey firm asking the
questions, the objective remains the same: identify
untruths, false assumptions, unfounded rumors,
inaccuracies, misconceptions and any other negative
perception that might translate into hurtful behaviors.
Here, you are aiming at creating a PR goal that does
something about the most serious problem areas you
uncovered during your key audience perception
monitoring. Will it be to straighten out that dangerous
misconception? Correct that gross inaccuracy? Or,
stop that potentially painful rumor cold?
Where you establish a goal, you must establish a
strategy that tells you how to get there. So keep in
mind that there are just three strategic options
available when it comes to doing something about
perception and opinion. Change existing perception,
create perception where there may be none, or
reinforce it. The wrong strategy pick will taste like
blue cheese on your corn flakes, so be sure your new
strategy fits well with your new public relations goal.
You wouldn’t want to select “change” when the facts
dictate a strategy of reinforcement.
It’s always a challenge to create an actionable message
that will help persuade any audience to your way of
thinking. Here, you must do so, and it must be a
well-written message target directly at your key
external audience. Identify your strongest writer
because s/he must build some very special, corrective
language. Words that are not merely compelling,
persuasive and believable, but clear and factual if they
are to shift perception/opinion towards your point of
view and lead to the behaviors you have in mind.
Now it’s selection time once again, namely, the
communications tactics most likely to carry your
message to the attention of your target audience.
There are scores available. From speeches, facility
tours, emails and brochures to consumer briefings,
media interviews, newsletters, personal meetings
and many others. But you must be certain that the
tactics you pick are known to reach folks just like
your audience members.
By the way, you may wish to keep this kind of
message low profile and unveil it before smaller
meetings and presentations rather than using
higher-profile news releases. Reason is, the
credibility of any message is fragile and always at
stake, so how you communicate it is a concern.
You’ll need preliminary progress reports, which
will alert you and your PR team to begin a second
perception monitoring session with members of
your external audience. You’ll want to use many
of the same questions used in the first benchmark
session. But now, you will be on red alert for signs
that the bad news perception is being altered in
If things are not moving fast enough for you, you
always have the option of accelerating the effort
by adding more communications tactics as well as
increasing their frequencies.
The value of public relations as effective medicine
for managers becomes clearer when you realize that
the people you deal with behave like everyone else –
they act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear
about you and your operation. Which means you really
have little choice but to deal promptly and effectively
with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to
reach and move those key external audiences of yours
to actions you desire.
About the author:
Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and
association managers about using the fundamental premise of public
relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR,
Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR,
Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi-
cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press
secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree
from Columbia University, major in public relations.